We Ride Together, We Die Together: BAD BOYS For Life

Alamo Drafthouse programmer Greg MacLennan on his favorite onscreen duo: Mike and Marcus. 

Now, this is a story all about how
Their lives got flipped-turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute
Just sit still, you
I'll tell you how it all became the best movie, BAD BOYS II

Once upon a time there was a stand-up comedian named Martin Lawrence. He’d done a couple of House Party movies and even made it big with his own TV show, but, when it came to making that big screen leap, the spotlight had always eluded him. Until BAD BOYS, Martin Lawrence was just kind of “that funny guy” from that “thing.”

Enter Will Smith, who had made some big waves in supporting roles, like Six Degrees of Separation, and managed to blow up his own profile with the cultural phenomenon that was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But he, too, had yet to take his on-screen charisma to that next level.

Bad Boys was originally intended to star Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. (Let that live inside your mind for a moment.) But when the script was passed around to the hands of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who wanted a young, hip video director by the name of Michael Bay to direct it, EVERYTHING CHANGED.

After initial tests proved Lovitz and Carvey were definitely not the right bad boys for the job, Michael “Everything Bigger is Better” Bay threw all of that out the window…of a speeding Porsche...that exploded into gigantic fireballs. At this point, Lawrence became attached, namely due to his success with his TV show, and the producers approached Arsenio Hall to star alongside him. Once Hall passed, Bay knew he had to find a leading man. And, the thing about Michael Bay is, he can make a leading man out of just about anyone given they have a certain level of character and charisma. Think about it; Nicolas Cage and Ben Affleck were just charming actors with little to no action experience and, for better or worse, after starring in a Michael Bay movie they went on to have a good 10 more years in the genre. Bay had seen star potential in Will Smith, and he knew he could make him an action hero.

Bay snatched up Lawrence and Smith and set out to create one of the best action films of the ‘90s. Bay himself wasn’t a fan of the script and frequently collaborated with his two leads to improvise scenes and dialogue. Smith and Lawrence, being of comedic roots, easily embraced the challenge and managed to channel all their personalities into the film. Bay even credits the rise of Smith’s superstardom to one moment on the set when they were debating his attire for a gun battle. Bay insisted Smith wear a shirt. Smith insisted he wear it unbuttoned. And the rest is history…

Bay knew Lawrence and Smith could be stars, but what he didn’t count on was how undeniable their chemistry would be once they were on screen together. Sure Bad Boys didn’t reinvent the wheel when it came to storytelling, but it took that same ol’ wheel and spun it at 200 mph with the help of a cocksure lone cop and an ever-pessimistic familyman. There was magic in their banter and a playfulness to their action alley-oops that made us know these two needed each other.

In 1995, the movie was released to mixed reviews. But after that slow-standing shot spiraled around our heroes while a glimmer of light danced over their shoulders as SHIT GOT REAL, two new heroes had arrived, and its box office success was all but guaranteed.

Where do you go from there, though? Anyone can rise to the top, but only heroes can rise again. Martin Lawrence would go on to wear many a fat suit and say as many fart jokes as he could as he chased Eddie Murphy down that drain of despair, while Will Smith fully owned his newfound onscreen persona and went on to make movies like Independence Day, Men In Black and Enemy of the State, carefully balancing his hero status with his endlessly likeable charm.

For years, the world was asking why these two dynamic actors never tapped back into their chemistry that effortlessly flowed off the screen, and, for years, scripts were retooled and schedules were desperately trying to align. Then, just like Halley's Comet, a miracle came back around in 2003, and Bay, Smith and Lawrence were back at it again.

Bad Boys II, one of the most maligned yet incredible achievements of action cinema to ever grace the silver screen, blasted into theatres and set eyeballs ablaze with its excess. From the opening credits of Michael Bay’s name appearing alongside a burning cross to an exploding lizard on the beaches of Cuba, Bay knew exactly what critics hated about his first film and what audiences around the globe had always loved: excessive violence, incredible action sequences and two hopelessly charismatic leads taking you on the cinematic journey of a lifetime.

While Bad Boys II could be debated among film fans for years, the drawing power of Smith and Lawrence cannot. These men are indelible units to one of the greatest on-screen duos of all time. Bad Boys II more than doubled the gross of the original, and our two heroes now stand tall amongst the legends of Riggs and Murtaugh, Cates and Hammond, Starsky and Hutch, and Tubbs and Crockett.

They are Mike and Marcus, and they ride together, and they’ll die together. They’re bad boys for life.

This was originally published in the "Dynamic Duos" issue of Birth.Movies.Death. See a bunch of amazing partners in film at the Alamo Drafthouse this month!